The "expansion" of the women's game.

Expansion is not a word that's often associated with cricket World Cups these days, but it was the key word in an announcement made by the ICC to mark International Women's Day this past Monday.

That announcement was that the women's World Cups in both the 50 over and T20 formats would see an increase in the number of participants, with the 50 over World Cup moving from 8 teams to 10 in 2029 and the T20 World Cup moving from 10 teams to 12 in 2026. Mention of any expansion for women's Test cricket was notable by its absence, though that's another topic for another time.

Let's take a moment to look behind the PR though. On a day about women's equality, the ICC announced that even at the end of the decade the women's T20 World Cup will still have four fewer teams than the equivalent men's tournament will have. Between 2014 and 2026, the women's T20 World Cup will have grown by just two teams. In 2029, the women's ODI World Cup will have fewer teams than it had in 1997.

Whilst this is certainly expansion by the strict definition of the word, it certainly doesn't go far enough. Looking just at the T20 format, we're seeing the higher ranked associates such as Thailand, Scotland and the Netherlands become more competitive with the lower ranked full members, with Thailand qualifying for the last World Cup.

There is excellent development occurring in places as diverse as Brazil, Germany and Rwanda. Recent advertisements for several roles related to women's cricket in the USA and the announcement of a potential women's Auty Cup series against Canada show that the new board in that country are taking women's cricket more seriously than ever.

The women's game is moving fast, particularly at the T20 level, and will likely be in a very different place come the end of the decade. To plan to have only 12 teams in the 2030 T20 World Cup ignores the reality of how women's cricket is developing. To publish this on International Women's Day is, quite frankly, a disgrace.

And I haven't even mentioned how the ten team Women's ODI World Cup will repeat the same misguided all play all format of the men's ODI World Cup. I suppose equally bad is still equal...

The return of the Auty Cup

Welcome news this week with the announcement that the Auty Cup between USA and Canada is to return at the end of July. The oldest rivalry in international cricket will see a three match one-day series played in Canada. Whilst it's not the traditional multi-day game, anything that sees the continuation of the traditional rivalries of associate cricket outside of ICC organised events is warmly received by me.

There are still barriers to overcome though, not least the fact that the Canadian government currently requires a 14 day quarantine period upon entry to the country. With professional leagues often operating on a cross-border basis in North America, the Toronto Raptors of the NBA are playing in Tampa, Florida and the Toronto Blue Jays of MLB will start their season in Dunedin, Florida before relocating to Buffalo, New York. The NHL restructured to have all seven Canadian teams in the same group for the regular season.

Also, Toronto currently has a ban on outdoor live events running until July. Whilst professional sport is exempt, there is no certainty that cricket will qualify. Whilst there are cricket grounds outside of the Toronto area, Canada has played every home match in the area since a 1991 three-day match against the USA in Calgary.

Hopefully the situation will have changed enough by the summer to allow the series (and the T20 Qualifier that precedes it) to take place. Rivalries are an important part of international cricket, and the associate world needs to keep its historic rivalries active.

European Championship and the T10 format

The announcement of the groupings for the European Cricket Network's European Cricket Championship was made the other day and it again brought up the conflict I have over the T10 format.

The European Cricket League in 2019 - run by the same group - was a fun watch and gave us a genuine cult hero in Pavel Florin. But the European Cricket Series has been something of a damp squib. The novelty of its earlier events when it was some of the only cricket available to watch has well and truly worn off and a recent - and rather lengthy - event in Barcelona has seen some truly terrible cricket even taking into account that these are low level club players.

The Abu Dhabi T10 was a bit of a mixed bag too, and that league often wheels out a player - usually Eoin Morgan - to say how T10 is the perfect format for the Olympics. The IOC are thought to be pretty insistent that if cricket is in the Olympics it has to be T20 though.

Into this pool wades the European Cricket Championship, which will see the first international T10 matches. Whilst some suggest that shorter formats bring teams closer together and increase the likelihood of upsets, I find that shorter formats actually amplify the differences in skill levels. I fully expect that Netherlands and Scotland will cruise to the final, even though they're playing their A sides.

If T10 has a role, it is surely at the club level rather than the international level. Hopefully the European Championship will be as fun a watch as the ECL was two years ago, but I'm conflicted over the role it has in international cricket down the line.